If I had my way, I would add zinc oxide to every sunscreen. When it comes to sun protection, there is simply nothing better. All other UV filters don’t even come close, which is why I rarely use them these days.
Once you start using zinc oxide, chances are you won’t go back (unless you’re in a pinch and can’t find a sunscreen with it in the shops – a very common occurrence in small Italian towns in winter; yes, you must use sunscreen in winter too!).
So, What Makes Zinc Oxide The Best Sunscreen Ingredient Ever?
Oh, let me count the ways:
- Most sunscreen ingredients protect skin only from UVB or UVA rays. Zinc oxide, instead, provides protection against UVB as well as short and long UVA rays. Impressive, isn’t it?
- Chemical sunscreens work by transform UV rays into a less damaging form of energy (heat). Zinc oxide, instead, stays on the skin and creates a sort of shield. When UV rays hit it, they are bounced off and away from the skin. They never touch you.
- Chemical sunscreens need to be applied to bare skin for the reaction that makes them work to occur (that takes about 30 minutes). Because zinc oxide creates a barrier on the skin, it can be applied after your moisturizer and 5 minutes before heading out the door. It works immediately. No need to wait for any chemical reaction to happen.
- Zinc oxide is much more stable than most chemical sunscreen agents, so it’ll last a lot longer on the skin. And who doesn’t want to reapply her sunscreen less often?
- Zinc oxide is very gentle and doesn’t cause irritations or allergic reactions. That’s what makes it ideal for both children and people with sensitive skin.
Ready to make the switch? You may want to hear about the drawbacks first (yep, nothing is perfect, sadly).
What’s The Problem With Zinc Oxide?
You know that ghastly white residue some sunscreens leave on the skin? Zinc oxide does that. Zinc oxide is a white mineral, so when you use a lot, its colour will show. I’m pretty pale so this is not a big problem for me. The white cast can hardly be seen on my skin. But, if your skin is darker than mine, this is something that may prompt you to stay away from zinc oxide-based sunscreens.
Don’t. Things have changed a lot in the last few decades and now we have ways to prevent zinc oxide from leaving a white cast on your skin. One is to add a tint to the sunscreen. Think of a tinted moisturizer, but one that offers less hydration and a lot more sun protection.
The other is nanoparticles. These particles are, obviously, a lot smaller, but can protect skin without turning it white. They also make zinc-oxide based sunscreens easier to spread. Zinc Oxide is pretty thick, which can be a nightmare to apply. Because of their smaller size, nanoparticles are much more pleasant to use.
But, Wait! Aren’t Nanoparticles Dangerous?
Because of the controversy that surrounds them, nanoparticles are being thoroughly studied. Critics are worried they can penetrate deep inside the skin, and who know what sort of damage they can do then. But that’s not true. A 2010 study has shown that very, very little (less than 0.1% of the applied dose) actually penetrates skin. That’s not enough to do any harm.
The European Union thinks so too. The Scientific Committee On Consumer Safety has concluded that zinc oxide nanoparticles “at a concentration up to 25% as a UV-filter in sunscreens, can be considered not to pose a risk of adverse effects in humans after dermal application.”
Zinc oxide nanoparticles are only banned from spray sunscreens because of the risk of inhalation (but you shouldn’t use those anyway). When applied topically, they pose no risk to human health.
What Are The Best Sunscreens With Zinc Oxide?
My love for Sunumbra sunscreens is no secret. My favourite is Sunkids 40. It is tinted, so no chance of a white cast (yay!) and has a fairly lightweight texture for a sunscreen loaded with zinc oxide. Don’t let the name fool you. It can be used by the entire family.
Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 30+ Unscented Sensitive Skin/Children does leave a white cast on the skin, so it is not suitable for dark skin. But if you’re pale and are looking for something effective and gentle even for the most sensitive of skins, this one is a great option to consider. It is infused with antioxidants and soothing ingredients that help keep premature aging and irritations at bay.
Kate Somerville Daily Deflector Waterlight Broad Spectrum 50+ PA+++ Anti-Aging Sunscreen has a lightweight texture suitable for combination and oily skin types (those with dry skin would benefit more from something more hydrating). It also contains a good mix of antioxidants that help fight premature wrinkles. But it does leave a very subtle white cast on the skin.
Jason Natural Pure Natural Sun Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 contains a nice amount of antioxidants and soothing agents that makes it ideal for those with dry and sensitive skin. It is also suitable for those affected with rosacea and eczema. And the white cast? It is noticeable only on dark skin.
MDSolarSciences Mineral Creme Broad Spectrum SPF 50 UVA-UVB Sunscreen is quite pricey, but well-worth the money. It is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and contains a few antioxidants too. It’s best suited to those with sensitive and oily skin and lighter complexions. On dark skin – you guessed it, – the subtle white cast it leaves behind is noticeable.
A Last Word On Zinc Oxide
Although this post focuses on the sun protective properties of zinc oxide, it wouldn’t be fair to leave you without telling you what else it can do:
- Skin protectant: it temporarily protects injured or exposed skin from harmful or annoying stimuli.
- Colorant: it imparts colour to cosmetics. For examples, it is used to create different shades of foundations and concealers.
- Thickener: it is also used to adjust the consistency of cosmetic products. The less you use, the more translucent they are. The more you use, the higher the coverage they provide.
- Astringent: it is slightly astringent, and can absorb just a little of the excess oils on your skin.
The Bottom line
Zinc oxide is by far the best, safest, and most effective sunscreen ingredient available today. Now that thick, white sunscreens are a thing of the past, there is just no good reason not to use it.
Do you use zinc oxide-based sunscreens?